Hello again! Reminder, this chapter is set in the PRESENT! As always, I do not own Naruto or Magi, just my OCs and plot twists~! Please review or comment, it is always appreciated! Now, for your regularly scheduled dose of chaos…

The Present…

Keiichi cocks his head in confusion as they stop in front of what appears to be a small sweets shop. Itachi and Kisame sit at one of the corner booths and Keiichi reluctantly sits with his back to the doorway in the last available seat. His neck prickles and he forces himself to not shift uneasily. Itachi and Kisame hide their amusement at his expense as the waitress walks over to take their orders.

"What would you like to order?" She asks politely.

"Four botchan dango and two anko dango with jasmine tea please." Itachi orders.

"Green tea for me." Kisame adds.

The waitress looks expectantly at Keiichi and he flounders.

What the hell is 'dango'?! Wait, they serve tea, just order tea! He thinks quickly.

"Jasmine tea please." He asks politely.

The waitress writes down his order with a smile and walks off. Keiichi turns, lifts his absurd hat and glares at Itachi and Kisame.

"What in the name of the seven seas is 'dango'?" He hisses to them.

Both missing-nin stiffen in absolute shock, openly startled (Itachi) or gaping (Kisame) at the younger Uchiha. Keiichi sweat drops at their expressions.

"What?" He snaps defensively.

Kisame breaks out of his funk first, eyeing Keiichi with wary disbelief.

"You don't know what dango is?" He says incredulously.

Keiichi rolls his eyes in exasperation.

"I wouldn't have asked if I knew." He retorts in an undertone.

Itachi and Kisame exchange glances then Itachi takes control of the conversation.

"Dango are a small dumpling, usually sweet, in sets of three to five on a skewer. They come in a small assortment of flavors and colors. Some come with sauces or are coated in sauces." He explains.

Keiichi frowns as he listens intently. The waitress comes back with their tea and Keiichi thanks her absently, sipping the scalding liquid.

"So, Keiichi-kun, what kind of sweets did you grow up eating?" Kisame prods, watching him closely.

Keiichi shrugs.

"Didn't really have any, unless you count fresh fruit. Once in a while I could find a wild beehive and could get some raw honeycomb. That was always tasty but really sticky." He muses.

The missing-nin share glances of disbelief.

Keiichi's homeland must be a terrible place to not have sweets, especially dango- or very rural in nature. Itachi thinks and decides to correct this travesty- immediately.

"Would you like to try some dango? Or perhaps some other treat?" Itachi proposes to his cousin.

Keiichi perks up at Itachi's offer. Kisame laughs at his reaction and nudges Itachi.

"I guess you'll be sharing, Itachi-san." He teases his partner.

Keiichi rolls his eyes.

"If you don't mind, then yes. Although I want to try inarizushi at some point along with ramen and tempura…" He mutters, resting his chin on one fist.

Itachi narrows his eyes.

"That's an odd assortment of foods." He notes.

Keiichi rolls his eyes.

"You think?" He answers dryly.

Itachi starts to answer when the waitress returns with his dango. Keiichi stares at the sweets with interest as Itachi picks up one of the botchan skewers and eats the dango daintily. After a sip of his tea, Itachi hands over one of the botchan dango skewers. Keiichi eyes it closely and bites the first dango off the skewer. He freezes at the burst of sweetness and nearly purrs with happiness as he chews. Kisame snorts with laughter while Itachi memorizes the moment with the Sharingan.

Keiichi slowly eats the other two dango dumplings, clearly focusing on savoring every last bite of sweet dough. He's slightly mournful when he finishes the skewer but manners nearly beaten into his skull prompt his response.

"Thank you for the dango." He tells Itachi, forcing his hands to stay wrapped around his tea mug.

Kisame is shaking with laughter while Itachi nods, already on his third skewer. Keiichi glares at Kisame but he only laughs harder. Stifling a groan, Keiichi sips his tea and reminds himself sternly that stealing other's food is bad. Itachi, thankfully, finishes his last two skewers quickly and sips his tea. Keiichi relaxes slightly with the temptation gone.

Once all three of them finish their tea, they leave the appropriate amount of money and walk out, continuing towards Orochimaru's last location. Keiichi basks in the outdoors, happy to not be in the industrialized Amegakure as they tree-jump through the forest. His mellow mood is broken by a sly comment from Kisame.

"So, Keiichi-kun, you really liked the dango huh?"

Keiichi forces himself to breathe calmly and not trap Kisame in a genjutsu- no matter how tempting it is. He nods, seeing no point in denying it.

"Definitely one of the sweetest things I've ever eaten, aside from honeycombs." He admits.

"Seriously? Where the hell did you live, the boonies?" Kisame demands.

Keiichi rolls his eyes at Kisame.

"Does my lack of experience with sweets really matter that much?" He retorts, exasperated.

Kisame raises his hands in a surrendering position, grinning toothily at him.

"It's just really strange, that's all!" He explains.

Keiichi feels his temper start to slip and forcibly restrains his impulse to fry the Kiri missing-nin.

"Kisame. Enough." Itachi interrupts calmly.

"Hai, Itachi-san." Kisame concedes.

Keiichi remains stubbornly silent until Itachi calls a rest, not in the mood to be ridiculed. A small cave serves at their campsite for the night and Keiichi goes to work creating a protective fuinjutsu barrier. Itachi adds genjutsu traps and cloaks the cave itself with an illusion. Kisame pulls out rations to share between the three of them. Keiichi accepts his silently and retreats to a far corner of the cave, biting the ration bar hesitantly.

He pales at the atrocious taste and nearly spits it out. Kisame sees his expression and roars with laughter. Itachi raises his eyebrows questioningly at Keiichi, who clearly is struggling with two very different impulses; spitting out the horrible food versus forcing himself not to waste said 'food'. In the end, Keiichi makes himself finish the ration bar and washes the taste out by drinking water.

"… That was supposed to be food?" Keiichi groans.

Kisame and Itachi nod, not bothering to hide their amusement at his expense. Keiichi huffs, unsealing his sleeping roll.

"Even onee-san's cooking is better than that and she's a goddamn disaster in a kitchen." Keiichi grumbles.

"Onee-san?" Kisame questions- this was the first time Keiichi mentioned anyone at all to his knowledge.

Keiichi rolls his eyes.

"We're not related but I grew up with her, so 'onee-san' she became. She never had a problem being called that- actually, I think it made her happy. But yeah, awful cook so I usually ended up doing it instead if I wanted to eat anything marginally edible." He explains idly.

"Seriously?" Kisame raises his eyebrows at him.

Keiichi deadpans.

"She set a pot of water on fire."

There is a very pregnant pause as the missing-nin process that particular snippet of information. Itachi breaks the silence.

"Let's go over the mission." He suggests.

Keiichi nods while Kisame grins, leaning against the wall.

"Our target is Orochimaru, one of the Sannin. He has a summoning contract with serpents, along with significant body modifications that allow his limbs, neck and torso to lengthen and contort similar to a snake. Orochimaru is proficient in all five types of elemental ninjutsu along with genjutsu, kenjutsu, kinjutsu and basic weapons. His MO is using Killer Intent to paralyze opponents before striking. He is a sadist and brands others with 'curse marks' that enhance the target physically but decimate their mental faculties. He's a skilled manipulator that inspires fanatical levels of loyalty. Orochimaru is after the Sharingan, Keiichi, so please refrain from activating it in his presence."

Keiichi listens intently, his mind going over possibilities.

"Do you know if he has any skill with seals?" He inquires.

Itachi nods, onyx eyes curious.

"He has some knowledge but is not a Fuinjutsu Master."

Keiichi nods thoughtfully.

"If he's already at a new base, I could set up a barrier to contain him or place a tracking seal on Orochimaru if he leaves so we can find him again. Other options are setting fuinjutsu traps or giving you seals that actively shut down the target's chakra network. I'm guessing you would rather I stay out of the fight then?" He asks calmly.

Kisame and Itachi nod.

"You're our medic, so that would be preferred." Itachi confirms.

"Yeah, it'd be bad if you got hurt and couldn't patch us up." Kisame adds.

Keiichi rolls his eyes.

"Why do I feel like you're the one most likely to be injured, Kisame-san?" Keiichi retorts.

Kisame pouts at him.

"Oi!" He protests.

Keiichi smirks at him.

"Oh look, you're not denying it..." He teases.

"Enough. Kisame, you have first watch. I'll take second watch and Keiichi has third. Get some rest." Itachi orders, ending the argument.

Keiichi rolls his eyes then pointedly stares at Itachi.

"I would, but I need to give you a check-up first." Keiichi reminds him.

Itachi barely suppresses a sigh but nods, choosing to not argue with his snarky cousin. It hadn't worked the first time or any of the other times Itachi tried to assure him he didn't need a check-up. Once when Itachi tried to skip an appointment Keiichi found him with a tracking seal (which he still hadn't managed to remove), trapped him in his borg and dragged Itachi to his workroom. Itachi reluctantly stopped avoiding Keiichi when Pain ordered him to actually show up to his check-ups.

Keiichi shifts to make room on his bed roll and Itachi settles next to him in a seiza. Kisame watches curiously as Keiichi's hands glow green and he slowly inspects Itachi's internal organs. It takes the better part of ten minutes of Keiichi painstakingly scanning to confirm Itachi's illness had not reappeared and strengthening Itachi's organs. Then he frames Itachi's eyes with his hands and goes to work soothing the inflammation and degradation of Itachi's optic nerves. Itachi relaxes slightly as the pain fades to nothing and opens his eyes when Keiichi removes his hands.

"All clear, try to not have your Sharingan activated all the time aa? Keep taking your vitamins, your immune system still needs the boost." Keiichi lectures him.

Itachi nods and leans against the cave wall, content to sleep upright. Keiichi flops onto his sleeping mat, seemingly asleep in seconds. Kisame glances at Itachi.

"So if you see your little brother, what're you going to do?" Kisame asks.

Itachi opens his eyes to look at his partner.

"Test him, most likely, if it doesn't get in the way of the mission." Itachi answers calmly.

"And Keiichi-kun? Does he know yet?" Kisame presses him.

Itachi glances at his clan brother and shakes his head.

"No. Nothing beyond our clan was massacred and is all but extinct." He admits quietly.

"… You might want to tell him something, otherwise he might do something stupid when he hears." Kisame points out.

Itachi closes his eyes, subtly ending the conversation. Silently he reflects on his interactions with his younger cousin. It had been… nice. Certainly Keiichi doesn't have the same features as the rest of their clan, but his chakra is a familiar inferno that is soothing in its familiarity. Keiichi's acidic temper and sarcasm are preferable to the hate and disgust he endures from Sasuke. Even his incessant nagging is somewhat endearing, since no one other than Kisame actually tries to take care of Itachi.

And Itachi loathes to break the fragile comradery, and sense of normalcy, Keiichi has brought him. But duty, and the mission, must always come first.

In Tsunade's office…

Kakashi ambles up the stairs and knocks on Tsunade's door, two hours late for a meeting she had told him with no uncertain terms to show up for. Shizune yanks the door open, frazzled and stares at him in disappointment.

"HATAKE!" Tsunade roars from beyond Shizune.

Kakashi eye smiles, closing his beloved Icha Icha as he walks past Shizune.

"Maa, I saw a-"

"Cut the bullshit, Hatake! I wanted you here two hours ago for a debriefing!" Tsunade snaps, her rage showing.

Jiraiya waves at Kakashi, making the jonin markedly more alert.

Why is Jiraiya-sama here as well? Kakashi wonders.

Shizune closes and locks the door, then Tsunade activates the privacy seals in the office to prevent eavesdropping. Both men stiffen in surprise as Tsunade glares at them.

"Jiraiya, Kakashi Hatake. What we will be discussing will not be spoken of outside this office, am I clear? This information is S-rank, if not higher."

They nod, intrigued and worried. Tsunade folds her hands and rests her chin atop them before continuing.

"Samar Kouga and her sister Xia are half Uchiha. Your team, Hatake, saw Xia manifest the Mangekyo when she wiped the floor with Sasuke and they all confirmed Samar also has a fully developed Sharingan." She tells them shortly.

Kakashi's brain short circuits. Jiraiya gapes at Tsunade in open shock.

"You're not serious?" Jiraiya demands.

Tsunade levels a flat expression at him.

"I saw it for myself, Jiraiya. Their eyes were the real deal. As you might imagine, I would rather keep this under wraps for as long as feasibly possible." She continues.

"Wait, where did they come from? The Uchiha clan didn't have any offshoots or clan branches in the Elemental nations. They were incredibly strict about keeping the Sharingan within the clan." Kakashi interrupts.

Tsunade sighs and gives them a tired look.

"… Yes they do, contrary to popular belief. But you are right that they aren't in the Elemental nations, Hatake. Suffice to say the 'where' is not accessible under ordinary circumstances." She tells him.

Jiraiya frowns at Tsunade, folding his arms.

"Tsunade, what aren't you telling us?"

"…" She sits back and pours herself a cup of tea.

"Have either of you ever heard of the Sensō no megami?" Tsunade asks.

Both men frown and shake their heads. Tsunade wishes for sake as she sips her tea before beginning the story.

"I'm not surprised you haven't- she's considered a myth… Anyways. She was a mercenary who appeared one day in the middle of a battle between the Senju and Uchiha, protecting Izuna Uchiha, Madara Uchiha's otouto. My great-uncle Tobirama was handed his ass at her hands and the story goes after that incident she traveled and met all nine Biju. Supposedly they all had fragments to a mirror that was her ticket back home, according Tobirama-oji-san. She collected them all and fixed the mirror, but fell in love with Madara. So instead of returning to her homeland, she married him and became Co-head of the Uchiha clan. She was one of the driving forces behind the peace treaty between the Senju and Uchiha before she married Madara."

Tsunade sips from her cup of tea before resuming her story.

"Konoha was founded and everything was going well- until the day she, Izuna Uchiha and Natsuko Uzumaki, my grandmother's niece, died in an explosion that was later confirmed as an assassination from Iwa. All that was found of them were three mirror shards and a scrap of paper with what might have been a seal. Madara went insane when both his wife and only brother died. You know the rest." She says quietly.

Kakashi stiffens, a memory from the bell-test coming to mind.

"Ne, why did you say 'Izuna-oji-san' when you saw the genjutsu of Sasuke?" Naruto presses.

Samar laughs awkwardly.

"Ah, well, he looks very similar to my uncle if you change his hair and age." She explains as they reach their starting point.

His eye widens as the pieces click together to form a picture.

"You think the Sensō no megami survived, along with Izuna Uchiha and possibly Natsuko Uzumaki." He states.

Tsunade sighs gustily.

"Yes. And Samar and Xia's father is Madara Uchiha." She drops the bombshell bluntly.

Both shinobi stiffen at the implications.

"… Well shit, Tsunade. That's- hell. If they're anything like him-" Jiraiya starts to say but Tsunade slams her hands on her desk.

"I'm not going to cast accusations at them based on their parentage, Jiraiya! If anything, we should be damn happy to have two Sharingan users who aren't missing-nin!" She snaps.

"Maa, maa. I doubt Samar-chan would turn against Konoha and if Xia-chan is anything like her sister, then they'll both stay loyal." Kakashi interjects.

Jiraiya grumbles while Tsunade sits back in her chair, still glowering. Shizune hugs Tonton, unsure of what to do. Kakashi sighs and looks to Tsunade.

"Hokage-sama, what are your orders?" He asks, for once perfectly serious.

"Kakashi, keep an eye on them. Assess their abilities, strengths and weaknesses- I doubt either of them have showed all their skills yet… Learn what you can and keep the Elders from approaching them." Tsunade orders.

"What about me~?" Jiraiya complains.

Tsunade sends him a dour glare.

"You are going to see if you can track down their older brother, Keiichi. He also has the Sharingan, according to Samar and Xia. Samar is going to henge into him for you so you can identify him. There's also a library's worth of information Xia stole from Orochimaru and she managed to seal a Curse Mark into a scroll for us to study."

Jiraiya's jaw drops- Kakashi is not far behind him.

"WHAT?!" Jiraiya squawks.

"You heard me, Jiraiya! You have about fifty sealing scrolls to sort through and that damn Curse Mark to investigate so I suggest getting started! Dismissed!" Tsunade barks, clearly done with the conversation.

The two shinobi are stagger out of the office and stand there in a daze for a moment. Then Jiraiya groans, rubbing his head.

"What's the world coming to?" He mumbles.

Kakashi can only agree wholeheartedly with his sentiment.

In Konoha's Hospital…

Xia is wary as she sits in a plain white room with neatened supplies and bland surfaces. The room, the nurses, the hospital itself was setting her nerves on edge. Her eyes flicker over the room again and she tries to distract herself by feeling everyone in her small sensing range. Several harassed nurses rush past her room while next door there is two people- a mother and child by the feel. Xia breathes out slowly as she strains to feel beyond the two adjacent rooms.

A bright, familiar presence distracts her and Xia opens her eyes as Sakura enters the examination room. She is dressed in a white coat and has her hair scraped back in a short ponytail; a nice practical look for the medic-nin, in Xia's opinion. Sakura smiles warmly at her and sets her clipboard aside.

"Good morning, Xia-san!"

Xia's mouth curves into a smirk as she watches the other kunoichi sanitize her hands, resting her cheek on one fist.

"Morning." She drawls.

Sakura gives her a quizzical look as she walks closer. Xia sits up slowly, continuing to observe Sakura as she strides up to the table. Sakura schools her expression to be more serious as she meets Xia's gaze.

"Alright, we're going to do a full physical along with blood work to make sure that Orochimaru didn't leave anything unsavory inside you. I will also be checking your eyes, Xia-san." Sakura informs her.

"By all means." Xia acquiesces lazily.

Sakura smiles and her hands light up with green chakra. She spends several minutes scanning Xia's body from the inside out, frowning as she notes sites where Orochimaru had removed tissue, bone and skin. Xia stays still, keeping her chakra and magoi tightly under control so as to not interfere with Sakura's medical chakra. Sakura pauses and steps back, frowning at what she had found scanning Xia's abdominal cavity.

Her organs… they all have scarring and signs that someone has taken samples from all of them! But that would mean-!

"Sakura?" Xia interrupts her whirling thoughts, staring at her intensely.

Sakura visibly starts and berates herself silently for letting her attention drift. She clears her throat awkwardly.

"Ah, Xia-san, please remove your shirt." Sakura orders.

Xia's eyebrows shoot up with surprise and then her smirk widens at Sakura's command.

"Aa? I hadn't taken you to be so forward, Sa~ku~ra-chan~!" Xia teases her, onyx eyes glinting.

"We haven't even had our first date yet!" She mock gasps.

Sakura's face flushes as she realizes exactly how her request sounded.

"Xia-san! I'm a doctor!" Sakura snaps.

"Oh really? But you're so fierce and pretty~!" Xia sings.

"XIA! Control yourself!" Sakura barks angrily.

"But Sakura-chan I don't want to~!" Xia protests with a pout, inwardly smirking.

"No buts! Now, if you would, please remove your shirt!" Sakura demands, her hands on her hips.

"Hmm, well, I suppose… Since you asked so nicely." Xia drawls.

Sakura glares at her. Xia hides a grin, stands leisurely before tugging off her t-shirt and reveals her torso with her chest bindings. Emerald eyes widen when Sakura sees the scar from her vivisection and puts together what must have happened to Xia. Absently she notes surgical scars on Xia's right forearm and left upper arm but mostly Sakura is stunned.

Xia picks up her mood and her smirk vanishes, her expression becoming still and difficult to read. With an effort, Sakura masters herself and inspects the scars. They remain silent for a long time as Sakura writes down the information and probes with her chakra. Sakura glances awkwardly at Xia and blurts out a question.

"Do you remember when-?" She cuts herself off, unable to finish her question

Xia stays silent for a long moment before nodding once.

"They didn't knock me out or use pain killers. It was a 'punishment' for trying to escape." She answers bluntly.

Sakura bites her lip in distress. Xia lets out a long sigh.

"I'm not made of glass, Sakura. Asking questions about it won't break me." She tells her.

Sakura blinks then her face changes to show understanding. She nods firmly.

"Did they do anything to your eyes?" Sakura asks.

Xia frowns, humming thoughtfully.

"Not that I'm aware of. They would sometimes stick a glass and metal thing filled with a drug to knock me out, so I have no clue what they did while I was unconscious."

"A syringe?" Sakura prompts, finding one and showing it to Xia.

Xia glares at it distrustfully, nodding.

"Yes. You're not going to pump me full of drugs, are you?"

"Don't be silly, Xia-san." Sakura scolds her.

"That wasn't a no." Xia points out.

Sakura rolls her eyes.

"I don't need to sedate you, Xia-san. Now,"

Sakura holds up her hands, glowing with medical chakra once more.

"I'm going to examine your eyes." She explains, carefully framing Xia's eyes with her hands.

"Hn." Xia grunts, closing her eyelids.

Sakura's mouth twitches into a tiny smile at Xia's Uchiha mannerisms as she carefully examines Xia's eyes and chakra pathways. Internally she notes how Xia's channels are different from Kakashi's, wondering how she could use this to improve his condition. Eventually Sakura pulls her hands away, relieved to find nothing odd with Xia's eyes or brain.

"It appears he did not operate on your skull at all." Sakura informs her.

Xia opens her eyes, cocking an eyebrow.

"I'm shocked- but I suppose Snake Bitch was taking his time." She reflects.

Sakura sweat drops.

"Why do you call Orochimaru that..?"

"Because it suits a piece of human waste like him." Xia says nonchalantly, as if she weren't insulting one of the Sannin.

Sakura shakes her head, sighing loudly as she writes more notes on her clipboard. Then she picks up an empty syringe and moves closer to Xia. The other kunoichi stiffens, her attention eerily locked on the medical instrument. Sakura pauses, staying still.

"Xia-san?" She asks carefully.

"…" Xia remains silent, staring at the syringe.

"Xia-san? Are you alright?"

"… Do you have to use that?" Xia redirects.

Sakura purses her lips.

"I'm supposed to take a blood sample and a syringe is the most hygienic method while also minimizing the harm done to you." Sakura explains.

Xia's jaw clenches as she continues to stare at it. Finally she holds out her arm to Sakura.

"Get it over with." She grits out.

Sakura is startled but her intuition whispers to her to not comment and complete this part of the exam as fast as possible. She expertly inserts the needle and the vial fills with blood quickly. Sakura doesn't miss how Xia relaxes slightly when the syringe is removed from her body.

"Alright Xia-san, you are free to go! Please make certain to eat healthily since you are a bit undernourished and drink lots of fluids." Sakura instructs her.

Xia tilts her head at Sakura and smirks.

"Xia."

Sakura blinks in surprise.

"Eh?"

"You can call me Xia. You saved my imouto's life so I don't see the point of standing on ceremony between the two of us." Xia says seriously.

Sakura flushes and nods.

"A-Alright… Xia." Her cheeks burn a brighter red.

Xia smiles at her and saunters closer to Sakura as she shrugs on her top.

"Much better… and I'll be waiting for that date, Sa~ku~ra." She purrs into Sakura's ear.

Sakura yelps, face as red as a cherry and Xia laughs as she shunshins out of the oppressive hospital room. Only to suddenly pop her head back through the door.

"By the way Sakura, where is 'T and I'?" Xia asks.

Sakura glares at her, nearly growling as she gives clipped directions to the head of intelligence and interrogation. Xia winks at her before leaving for good. Sakura pouts at the closed door, still flushed.

"She has no shame!" Sakura mutters as she gathers her notes and Xia's blood sample for the lab.

Xia stares at the unassuming building and rolls her eyes as she knocks on the door. An unassuming shinobi let's her in, seemingly already aware of who she is. Xia stays alert as the shinobi leads her deeper into the building until they reach a closed office door. The shinobi knocks politely and waits.

"Come in!" A pleasant man's voice answers and Xia is ushered inside.

An older gentleman about her mom's age with long blond hair and pale blue eyes stands up, greeting her with a warm smile.

"Ah, you must be Kouga-san! My name is Inoichi Yamanaka and I will be the one performing your mind walk today. If you would sit down..?" He offers one of the chairs before his desk.

Xia raises her eyebrow at him as the shinobi leaves the room and shuts the door behind him.

"Forgive me, but I am unfamiliar with the term 'mind walk': what does a mind walk entail exactly, Yamanaka-san?"

Inoichi blinks in surprise.

"You don't know..?" He inquires.

Xia shakes her head once.

"I am from a very distant country, Yamanaka-san. I ask for your patience with my ignorance." She says formally.

Inoichi nods with an understanding smile.

"I will essentially being using a clan jutsu of mine to enter your mind and review your memories, specifically your time with Orochimaru."

Xia is silent for a long moment as she processes the information, onyx eyes unfathomable.

"And that is the extent of your 'mind walk'?" She asks.

Inoichi nods and waits for Xia to make her decision; he already has noted her subtle readiness to fight and wariness of being around strangers. He sympathizes with her uneasiness, especially after being held unwillingly by Orochimaru. After a long pause, Xia finally sits down and stares at him impassively.

"Let's get this over with." Xia states wearily.

Inoichi smiles sadly and forms the necessary hand signs; then his body slumps and Xia's jolts as his spirit enters her mind…

Inoichi finds himself in an airy hallway lined with doors of a honey-colored wood; they all are carved with stylized images. Beside him is Xia (or the mental projection of her), dressed in lightweight emerald clothing better suited for a desert climate. She folds her arms and raises an eyebrow at Inoichi.

"This way." She tells him, leading him to the end of the hallway where her most recent memories reside.

She stops before a door depicting what appears to be a broken mirror and serpents slithering around it. Inoichi wants to examine the door more closely (he had never seen a mindscape like this before) but instead enters the memory.

Inoichi finds himself in an underground room with a balcony facing what appears a vast valley. Brightly colored rugs with foreign patterns decorate the room along with a low table and several cushions. Samar and a young man about Xia and Samar's age (Keiichi-nii, her mind whispers) are waiting for her dressed in a similar style to Xia.

{"You realize that this is a bad idea, right?"} Samar points out.

Inoichi is startled by the unfamiliar language Samar uses but Xia understands it easily and thus Inoichi understands it as well. Mentally he notes to remember as many words as possible to share with Shikaku- the possibility of a cipher written in a different language only a few understand is very tempting.

Memory Xia rolls her eyes as Inoichi looks on.

{"Not my fault if Mom doesn't keep it locked away properly!"} She retorts in the same tongue as she lays a partially broken mirror on the table.

Inoichi's curiosity is perked by the object- he can sense it is very important to Xia and all three triplets seem to share the sentiment.

{"Will you two pipe down? The last thing we need is Mom finding us with her mirror."} Keiichi cuts them off, glowering.

Xia represses a shudder at their mother's reaction to their theft- Ilona would have them babysitting their six youngest cousins as punishment for months! Inoichi suppresses a snort at that, briefly seeing memories of her younger redhead cousins causing mayhem.

Both sisters glare at him but listen, watching avidly as Keiichi examines it: all of them had heard the story of how Sinbad had destroyed the mirror and sent their mother flying into another world. Inoichi blinks at the simmering anger at this 'Sinbad' person- an image of a handsome man with long purple hair and gold eyes in foreign clothes comes to the fore along with a healthy dose of wariness. He almost misses the subtle way Xia neatly distracts him from her mother's misadventures- another world, really? Inoichi shakes his head in amazement and continues to watch them examine the mirror.

A simplistic design, the round mirror is the size of a coconut (an image of a giant nut slightly smaller than a human head pops into Inoichi's mind) with a beaten gold frame. The reflective glass is oddly dark, not showing reflections of anything in the room and spider webbed with cracks. In the very center of the frame is an empty space for three shards to fit neatly, completing it.

Xia can feel the Rukh buzzing around it and the faintest pulse of… something else. Inoichi is surprised by the lack of chakra Xia senses- in fact, only her siblings and herself seem to have any. And the sensation of Rukh-! Inoichi is stunned to say the least that all three triplets are adept at sensing what amounts to the life force in others. Keiichi frowns, stretching his senses then his eyes widen in surprise.

{"There's chakra coming from the empty space in the mirror."}

Samar gasps while Xia tilts her head, frowning in confusion.

{"Wow, that's weird! Wait! Do you think it's chakra from there?!"} Xia asks excitedly.

Keiichi purses his lips, considering it.

{"It's possible- but why wouldn't Izuna-oji notice it? He should have picked up on it years ago."} He points out.

Inoichi sees a brief image of a man with a striking resemblance to Sasuke, older with a long ponytail and a happy grin teaching Xia and her siblings to fight with a sword…

{"… Izuna-oji-san isn't a sensor type- he said that himself."} Samar interjects slowly, thinking it through.

{"You, Keiichi, are a sensor type in addition to being a magician- you can sense chakra and Rukh to a degree even Xia and I cannot match."}

Inoichi frowns at the unfamiliar term 'magician'- Xia is surprisingly unwilling to expand on the subject beyond Keiichi has greater skill at manipulating Rukh. The Yamanaka reluctantly allows the topic to drop, knowing Xia would only dig in harder if he presses her for answers.

Memory Xia nods, folding her arms.

{"That makes sense- so, what do we do about it?"} She questions, pointing at the mirror.

{"…"} All three frown, considering it.

{"… What if we put chakra into it?"} Samar eventually offers.

Xia and Keiichi raise their eyebrows at her. She blushes before making herself go on.

{"It might resonate and maybe- maybe it can take us to Otou-san."}

Keiichi and Xia exchange glances then look at Samar. Xia speaks first.

{"… It's worth a shot. I know we never knew him, but Mom and Izuna-oji both miss him. So I say aye."}

Samar brightens and mouths 'thank you' to her sister, to which Xia smirks then they both look at Keiichi, waiting for his vote. He frowns, glaring at the mirror as if it will give up all its' secrets if he tries hard enough. Finally he meets their eager eyes and groans, rubbing his head in exasperation.

{"Fine- but if I say bail, we bail, understood?"}

Xia and Samar nod while Keiichi clearly is wary of messing with a magical artifact. Inoichi can only watch carefully, silently sympathizing with Xia's older brother.

{"Touch the mirror and when I say so, channel a small part of your chakra into the empty space."} He instructs them.

Samar and Xia reach out, touching the mirror's surface with their index fingers- Keiichi follows suit and holds his free hand in the sign of confrontation. The other two mimic him and he breathes out, steadying himself before nodding.

{"Begin."} Keiichi says.

Xia focuses her chakra- scorching, hot, restless- into the mirror and feels something grab onto it. The world bursts into golden light and Xia feels herself falling, tugged every which way until a sudden explosion of smoke and the solid feeling of stone beneath her. Xia opens her eyes, futilely trying to find her siblings with her chakra and instead finding herself in an underground space. She doesn't have time to marvel the abundance of chakra in her surroundings, though she wants to.

{"What the-?! Where am I? A cave? This isn't home, is it? Fuck."} Xia growls before spotting two unfamiliar figures.

Sasuke and Orochimaru stare at her, wide-eyed. Xia instantly is on guard, distrustful of their malevolent chakra and draws her sword.

{"Identify yourselves!"} She barks.

Orochimaru licks his lips and tries to trap her in a genjutsu, which she breaks and swiftly retaliates with a doton technique before racing through the underground base. As she escapes, Xia follows the scent of fresh air mixed with leaves as she dodges Sasuke's various attempts to apprehend her. Inoichi is surprised by her ease at evading and outrunning the rogue Uchiha. Xia bursts outside and really starts to run, her speed rivaling Guy's, until she finds a nice clearing.

Nodding, Xia settles in to wait for her pursuer- she isn't disappointed when Sasuke shunshins into the clearing. He pauses in surprise when he sees she is waiting for him, sword in hand. Her dark eyes meet his and she cocks her head as she examines him, noting he is passable in terms of physical fitness and weaponry.

{"Finally caught up, Duckbutt? Good- let's get this shit show over with."} She smirks, easing into a stance. Inoichi can only laugh at her nickname 'Duckbutt' for the arrogant Uchiha.

Sasuke narrows his eyes and activates his Sharingan, aiming to ensnare her in a genjutsu. Xia's own eyes widen when she realizes what he must be and with an abrupt laugh activates her own. Sasuke freezes, unable to believe what he is seeing. Matching crimson eyes with three tomoe spinning idly staring back at him. Xia sighs and relaxes her stance with a wry smirk.

"Well, who knew? Nice to meet you, cousin." She tells him in Fire, startling him.

Inoichi is no less stunned than Sasuke, his mind whirling in disbelief. But he forces aside his initial feelings and examines the memory with a laser focus.

"W-what? Who-?" Sasuke stammers, clearly shaken.

"Xia. You?" She interrupts, tilting her head.

With a visible effort, Sasuke masters himself.

"Sasuke Uchiha. How do you have the Sharingan?" He demands, eyes still spinning.

Xia shrugs.

"Dad's an Uchiha- so is oji-san. Now, as much as I would like to stay and chat, I've got to scat before your creepy sensei catches up. Maybe we'll see each other again one day!" She waves before shunshinning out of the clearing.

Inoichi watches as Xia escapes Sasuke with a clever use of shadow clones, reaching the Valley of the End before Sasuke reappears in his transformed state. Memory Xia is horrified by the corrosive hatred practically oozing from Sasuke, ready for battle until he reverts to his human form. Xia glares at Sasuke and then things grow strange. Another voice rumbles through Xia's mind and she responds to it with familiarity.

Inoichi is worried at first that Xia is crazy but she shows no other signs of instability mentally speaking, so he pauses the memory and observes it more closely. The voice is male and speaks in Xia's native tongue, refers to her as 'my king' and prods her to use her common sense in dealing with the emotionally stunted Sasuke. Any other information he tries to glean outside the current memory is blocked. Giving up (for the time being) Inoichi continues to watch the memory.

When Xia and Sasuke start exchanging answers and questions Inoichi is impressed by Xia's ability to tell the absolute bare minimum- she confirms there are others but not how many or where they are. Sasuke is annoyed judging by his expression and Inoichi wonders if they can use his hyper fixation on Xia to entice Sasuke to return. But his musings are interrupted by the depths of her despair when she hears how long it had been since Konohagakure had been founded.

Inoichi has a hunch but he knows he will have to check records for the Uchiha clan and perhaps the village roster from the village founding to verify it. Meanwhile, he can only feel a spark of anger and regret as Sasuke poisons Xia and drags her back to Orochimaru. The next bit makes the Yamanaka sick to his stomach as he watches Orochimaru and Kabuto cut into Xia repeatedly then send her to fight against his other experiments. She wins. She always wins and makes the kills as fast as possible- the only mercy she can offer.

During one of her gladiator matches (a phrase Inoichi learned from Xia) she sees her chance, even with chakra suppressing shackles. She catapults herself out of the arena with pure speed and rushes for the exit only to be recaptured by a giant snake swallowing her whole. Inoichi grimaces when Xia is spat out and promptly attacks Orochimaru, Kabuto and Sasuke.

Orochimaru punishes her with a vivisection without painkillers and it's then that Sasuke finally seems to connect what is happening to Xia. Inoichi notes Sasuke is insecure and clearly wants to make an emotional connection with Xia but doesn't know how to do so in a healthy manner. Xia is furious with Sasuke and doesn't hesitate to let him know it, leading to Orochimaru giving her a Curse Mark. Inoichi is stunned by shear amount of agony Xia experiences before she utilizes her magoi to suppress Orochimaru's parasitic chakra.

She waits for her chance and after rejecting Sasuke's plea for her to give in breaks free from her cell. Inoichi watches intently as Xia calls on a spirit she calls 'Sekhmet' and literally tears the Curse Mark from her flesh only to seal it away. The rest is a blur as she sabotages the base, enacts rescues and runs into Naruto. Xia is on her way outside when she witnesses Samar being stabbed by Sasuke.

The image is frozen in perfect detail, something Inoichi associates with the Sharingan, and he can clearly see Sasuke's shock and horror when Xia screams for Samar. Xia's eyes burn and mutate into Mangekyo Sharingan and she attacks without mercy, toying with Sasuke as he tries to keep up. Her rage is immense and it only subsides when Samar calls for her, barely stopping Xia from killing Sasuke. The rest of the memory is as Team Kakashi had described it.

Inoichi sighs and releases the jutsu.

Xia groans and opens her eyes while Inoichi winces at the strain of staying in her mind for so long. He gives her a wane smile.

"Thank you for your cooperation, Kouga-san. You may go now." He tells her.

Xia nods and stands, hand on the door knob before she hesitates.

"… Yamanaka-san, please be careful of what questions you ask. Not everyone is trustworthy." She finally says before bowing and leaving.

Inoichi sighs and lays his head on his desk for a moment before going to verbally report to Tsunade: there is no way he can risk writing this interrogation down.

Elsewhere in Konoha…

"Samar-chan! What're you doing, dattebayo?" Naruto asks, squinting as Samar fills a basket with more food and spices.

"What do you think I am doing, Naruto-kun?" Samar teases as she walks to the checkout.

"Shopping… but why're you shopping when we're gonna eat ramen when Xia gets back dattebayo?" Naruto wonders.

Samar laughs softly as she pays for her food.

"Well, Xia-nee and I are going to cook food for Team Kakashi tonight, so I'm stocking up now." She explains.

Naruto blinks and his blue eyes widen in surprise.

"Cook? For us?" He gapes.

Samar nods, her smile changing to a frown when she sees Naruto's expression is dazed.

"Naruto-kun?" She asks, touching his arm.

He starts and beams a bright smile at her. Samar can't help but feel it is slightly off.

"Thanks Samar-chan! I can't wait to see what you cook! Oh! And we can introduce Kakashi-sensei to Xia!" He chatters.

"Aa, I have a feeling either they will like or hate each other. Make sure to be there by six, ne? Food is best when it's hot and shared with friends." Samar tells him.

Naruto flinches slightly and Samar has an uneasy suspicion growing in her stomach.

'Is he not used to others caring about him?'

'Perhaps, my king.'

'That stops now- even if I have to set Xia-nee on him to get my point across.' Samar decides.

'My king, you don't have to go that far!'

"Naruto-kun, do you want to come with me while I put away groceries and then go to tell the rest of Team Kakashi?" Samar offers, ignoring her djinn's protests.

Naruto nods, brightening at the invitation. Samar smiles warmly at him and leads him to her apartment, undoing the seals and beckons Naruto inside as she puts the groceries away. He looks around, surprised by the warm colors Samar had decorated with and the intricate seals she had drawn around the windows and doors.

"Ne, ne, Samar-chan! What're these ink squiggles?" Naruto asks, frowning at them.

Samar stills in shock, violet eyes widening.

"What are-? Naruto-kun, you're an Uzumaki!" She gapes.

Naruto blinks in confusion and tilts his head at her.

"Uh, yeah, but what does that have to do with the ink squiggles?"

Samar makes a whining sound as her worst fear is confirmed- and Xia opens their apartment door. Xia blinks as she takes in the scene of a confused Naruto and shell-shocked Samar.

"… Okay, what happened?" She demands, folding her arms.

"Samar isn't telling me what these ink squiggles are!" Naruto pouts.

Xia quirks her eyebrow as she shuts the door.

"Those are seals, Blondie. Haven't you ever seen privacy or protection seals before?" She asks, settling on the couch.

Naruto shakes his head, interest growing.

"Nope, but aren't seals super complicated?" He asks.

Xia snorts and Samar sighs.

"Depends on who you're asking. A regular person presented an A-class fuinjutsu formula would take ages to master it, if at all, and would probably be traumatized for life. An Uzumaki? They just devour that shit up and wonder why it wasn't harder, then modifies it to be more difficult and activates it to see if it explodes." Xia explains.

"Uzumaki-? What're you talking about, dattebayo?" Naruto comments, tilting his head.

Xia gives him a disbelieving stare.

"How the hell do you not know about your own clan? The Uzumaki are fuinjutsu masters, Blondie- they came from their own village in Uzushio, which was the basis for Konohagakure's own design, and are one of Konoha's oldest allies dating back to the founding. They even have their own Kekkei Genkai, though only the ladies seem to inherit it."

Naruto's jaw drops and Xia sweat drops as tears start to form in his blue eyes.

"What? Blondie, why're you looking at me like I gave you the answer to one of life's great mysteries?" Xia asks, edging away from the overflow of emotion.

"But-! But, but, you know about Uzumakis Xia-chan! I didn't know any of this stuff, dattebayo! How do you know all this anyways?!" He cries.

"We grew up with one of your kinswoman- her name is Natsuko Uzumaki." Samar explains, bringing over cups of chai tea for Naruto and Xia.

Naruto's head whips around to look at her as he numbly settles on the couch next to Xia.

"Really?! What's she like?!" He demands eagerly.

Samar smiles as she passes out the tea.

"Outgoing, impulsive, picky, clever, stubborn, funny, warm, protective, lucky-"

"That's an understatement." Xia mutters.

"Affectionate, foot loose, devoted and incredibly ballsy." Samar finishes with a mild glare at her sister.

Xia smirks at her.

"Oh? You actually swore!" She cackles.

"You try finding another adjective that suitably describes Natsuko-onee's complete disregard for status, culture, rules or social conventions and still not caring even when it gets her into trouble without being arrogant."

"… Fair." Xia allows.

Naruto listens intently as they describe someone who, according to the sisters, is his kinswoman. He pushes down a wave of apprehension and questions burst out of his mouth before he can stop them.

"What does she look like, dattebayo? How old is she? Does she like pranks or ramen? What's her favorite color?"

Samar smiles at him while Xia grins.

"Let's see, Natsuko-onee was born in late summer, so she should be twenty-six. She adores pranks and ramen, along with gambling, sailing, exploring and fuinjutsu experiments. Her favorite colors are copper and sea-green. And her verbal tick is 'dattenabe'." Xia tells him as she sips her chai tea.

Naruto frowns at the gambling comment, which Samar notices.

"Don't worry, she doesn't lose money when gambling. Her luck is unbelievable and one of her nicknames is 'Queen of Gamblers' since she wins so often." She sooths him.

"But what does she look like dattebayo?!" Naruto grumbles in frustration.

Samar stands and henges; Naruto squints through the smoke and drinks in Samar's altered features. A woman in her mid-twenties smiles at him, emerald eyes twinkling in a rounded face as she pushes blood-red hair over her shoulder. It is long and straight, falling just past her hips in a high ponytail. Naruto gapes at Samar while Xia conceals a worried frown.

"Have you seriously never met another Uzumaki before?" Xia asks him.

Naruto shakes his head as Samar dismisses the henge and settles on the couch again on Naruto's other side.

"No." He mumbles, looking into the cup of tea.

The sisters share glances over his head and Xia ruffles his hair, startling him.

"Ne, you want to learn seals? We can at least teach you the basics, Blondie, since Natsuko-onee practically beat them into our skulls." She offers, onyx eyes meeting blue.

Naruto bites his lip and nods, feeling shy. Xia gives him an understanding grin and tugs him into a side hug. Samar pets his hair soothingly, intuitively understanding Naruto needs the reassurance and comfort- they had sprung an unintentional surprise on him after all. After a few minutes, Naruto starts to squirm and they let him go. He gets to his feet and grins at them.

"Come on, we have to go eat ramen then tell the other's about the team dinner dattebayo!" Naruto cheers.

Xia laughs as she stands up and Samar follows with a soft chuckle, grabbing her wallet and keys as Naruto drags them to Ichiraku's.

Elsewhere…

Keiichi pauses, cocking his head when multiple chakra signatures ping his sensory range. Kisame and Itachi notice and give him confused stares. Keiichi refocuses on them.

"Twenty-seven chakra signatures northeast of our current positon, forty clicks." He tells them.

Itachi blinks slowly while Kisame gapes at him before whistling.

"You're a sensor?" Kisame asks him.

Keiichi nods. Itachi is thoughtful as he stares at him with impassive onyx eyes.

"What is your range?" He asks as they adjust their course.

"Onee-san clocked it at fifty-five to fifty kilometers with those I'm familiar with, forty for those I am not."

"Why the variation?"

"She suppressed her signature to see if that made a difference." Keiichi explains bluntly.

Itachi nods as he integrates possibilities for the situation.

"Can you discern details if you are closer?"

"Yes- that reminds me." Keiichi grumbles, pulling out three seals and an inkbrush.

"These will let us communicate- the seal activates to the sound of your voice and transmits it to the other seals which in turn projects it directly to our ears so don't bellow please. Ruptured eardrums are a pain to deal with. I can apply them pretty much anywhere, but arms or shoulders are popular choices." He explains.

Kisame and Itachi are pleasantly surprised by his offer while considering the implications for what accounts as specialized personal coms.

"Are there any limiting factors on their ability to function?" Itachi questions as Keiichi expertly applies the seal tag onto Kisame's left arm.

"If it tears then it won't work. If you are drained of chakra it will also not work. Distance isn't a factor- I tested that years ago and the seal worked across an ocean." Keiichi remarks, drawing on his before looking at Itachi for permission.

Itachi accepts the seal, slightly curious about how exactly Keiichi had tested the seal across an entire ocean. Keiichi sends a pulse of chakra to activate the seals and they set off again. Keiichi reports nearly one hundred chakra signatures, seventy-three weakened and the rest wandering around when they are ten kilometers from the base. He notes all of the mobile chakra signatures have some refinement to their chakra networks, implying their status as shinobi.

Four signatures in particular catch his attention- an Uzumaki, another Uchiha, someone with extraordinarily refined chakra and then one that feels completely wrong. Keiichi jerks back and hisses as he forces himself to memorize the skin-crawling chakra and magoi he is sensing. Kisame and Itachi watch as Keiichi grimly adjusts.

"That bad?" Kisame asks him.

Keiichi nods sharply, eyes distant as he tries to understand the confusing chakra and magoi signals.

"… You mentioned him possessing knowledge of kinjutsus?" Keiichi grits out.

Itachi frowns minutely and Kisame shares his partner's worry more openly.

"Yes, why?" Itachi asks.

"… Well, that probably explains why it feels like he has two different chakra networks superimposed over one another and one is rotting. He's in the base currently if you want to box him in. There's also another Uchiha in there." Keiichi reports.

Itachi and Kisame share glances before Itachi decides on a plan of action. Keiichi would set up a barrier to contain and tag Orochimaru with a tracking seal if he escapes the base. Itachi and Kisame would knock on the front door, so to speak, and hopefully kill him. Keiichi would stay outside and move closer as needed to stay within half a kilometer of Kisame or Itachi. The work goes easily, despite Keiichi's distance handicap and he is two-thirds done when he frowns suddenly.

"Orochimaru is moving, two others accompanying him. One is the other Uchiha and a male with very refined chakra control." He reports.

["Direction?"] Itachi asks calmly.

Keiichi focuses more intently.

"West of my current position and towards the only section still un-trapped. Typical." He grouses.

["Huh, Itachi-san, it looks like we're gonna get more of a fight than expected."] Kisame remarks.

["Hn."] Itachi hums.

"I'll meet up with Kisame then we can herd them towards you, Itachi. I can see if I can separate Orochimaru's companions first if you two don't wander off too far." Keiichi offers.

["Herd?"] Kisame snorts.

"What? It's a perfectly good word!" Keiichi snaps, annoyed.

["Enough. Kisame, rendezvous with Keiichi. Suppress your chakra signatures."]

["Hai, Itachi-san."]

"Fine. Stay in contact." Keiichi requests before shunshinning towards Kisame's chakra signature.

It doesn't take long before he reaches the Kiri-nin and they start running towards Itachi- and their target. Keiichi easily pulls all his chakra deep inside himself, letting small amounts flicker like an animal's would. Kisame follows suit, going into stealth as they move closer and closer to Orochimaru's group.

"One kilometer away from target." Keiichi murmurs softly.

["Good. Keiichi, stay with Kisame and see if you can get the Uchiha away from the group. His presence would be detrimental during the fight."]

"Right. Try not to wander too far off, aa?" Keiichi retorts.

Kisame smirks and takes the lead, timing his approach with Itachi's while Keiichi focuses in on the other Uchiha's signature.

Young, katon and ration chakra natures, moody, hot-tempered, calculating but there's a thread of something odd under that…

WHAT THE FUCK?! Why does he have Orochimaru's chakra in his system?! Did he get experimented on like a lab rat?! He seethes, fingers itching for an inkbrush to deal with the atrocity.

Thankfully he didn't miss Itachi's signal to engage- and Keiichi isn't fucking around anymore. He unseals a scroll and allows all the trap seals within that he had tailored for all non-Akatsuki members to spread out through the forest. Kisame gives him a wary glance and Keiichi waves off his concern, violet eyes hardening as he senses the trio react to the first set of traps (flashbangs).

"Trap seals deployed- don't worry about activating them, they'll only go off for our targets." Keiichi reports in a cold voice, resealing the scroll.

"Scary…" Kisame mutters, side-eying him.

["Very well. Engage."] Itachi orders.

Keiichi layers a deceptive genjutsu over himself, urging the target to 'not look' as he approaches the trio. He notes the man with long black hair and yellow eyes scanning the area warily, a silver-haired man with glasses taking his cue from the Sannin. The Uchiha, whose resemblance to Izuna-oji is rather uncanny, scowls as he draws his sword. Kisame and Itachi reveal themselves at the same time, making Orochimaru shift warily.

"Well, this is certainly a surprise… Itachi-kun." Orochimaru hisses.

Chibi-Izuna snaps his head around and his face twists into a hateful snarl.

"Itachi!" He growls, his fingers tightening on his sword hilt.

"Be quiet, Sasuke." Itachi reprimands him coolly, not looking away from Orochimaru.

"Like hell, you murderer!" Sasuke snarls, lightning screaming down his blade.

The youngest Uchiha steps forward; and that's all Keiichi needs. A seal blazes to life underneath Sasuke's feet and he vanishes, causing Orochimaru and the silvernette to freeze warily. Keiichi ignores the group, retreating to where his teleportation seal's twin is. Sasuke is snarling, trapped in a fuinjutsu barrier that absorbs the chakra from his attacks to strengthen itself. Keiichi is proud of himself for that one, but he slaps an additional seal on to isolate the area within the barrier from the real world. Essentially the magician made a pocket dimension to contain the hissy 'Sasuke' from the battle.

"What the hell is this?!" Sasuke hisses, staring at the golden barrier.

Keiichi sits on a tree branch, content to wait for the fight to finish, casually drawing another set of seals. It takes Sasuke far too long to notice Keiichi, given he's sitting in easy view and isn't exactly trying that hard with his genjutsu. Sharingan eyes stare at him and Sasuke sneers furiously at him.

"Who the fuck are you?!" Sasuke demands rudely.

Keiichi ignores him, carefully completing the seal he is writing before deigning to even turn his head (not that you can tell because of the hat) in Sasuke's direction. Sasuke stiffens at the blatant irreverence and his eyes spin faster and faster in agitation. Keiichi rolls his eyes at Sasuke's manners.

"Well, you're a rude one." Keiichi drawls, letting his voice deepen.

"You didn't answer my question!" Sasuke yells.

"Why would I answer a rude brat such as yourself?" Keiichi points out.

"Bastard! Let me out!" Sasuke growls.

"Why? So you can be a nuisance?" Keiichi remarks, putting away the sealing tags.

"I need to fight Itachi!" Sasuke snaps, his sword sparking with his emotions.

Keiichi snorts.

"Hmm, let me think about that- indulge a self-destructive brat intent on killing one of my partners or keep said brat inside the barrier where he's out of the way? It's a no brainer." He shrugs.

Sasuke is reduced to wordless hissing and growls. Keiichi is not impressed by his newly met clan brother.

"Yeesh, at least use words. You're not doing yourself any favors." Keiichi idly remarks.

["The brat not impressing you?"] Kisame asks him.

Keiichi contains a snort and lowers his voice.

"He's hissing and growling at me like a soggy kitten that wants to bite my face off. Not very threatening." Keiichi dismisses Sasuke casually.

His amusement grows when Sasuke's temper reaches new heights of anger and frustration (ah, he must have heard him- oh well), very easy to read for the sensor. But at the same time, black flame tattoos start to spread from his neck across his body. Keiichi narrows his eyes and barely suppresses a hiss as the feeling of Orochimaru's chakra overtaking the younger Uchiha's body.

"… Ne, Itachi. You got any objections if I seal off the snake's chakra inside Grumpy-kun? Cause it feels parasitic and disgusting."

["… Can you do so without killing or maiming him?"] Itachi asks.

Keiichi rolls his eyes at that.

"Yes." He answers bluntly.

["Then do so."] Itachi orders.

"Hai." Keiichi acknowledges, moving to stand on his tree branch.

Sasuke glares at him, his skin starting to turn grey and transform into something monstrous. Keiichi doesn't flinch; he had seen far worse over the years. Sasuke sneers, wings bursting out of his back before rushing the barrier again. It holds, blasting Sasuke back with enough force to leave a deep crater in the ground. That's when Keiichi makes his move.

Keiichi enhances his shunshin with futon to silence his approach and make himself more aerodynamic, blitzing through the air easily. Sasuke grunts in surprise as Keiichi hits him with a sharp blow to his left shoulder, hand glowing green with medical chakra. He wheezes but swipes with his sword to force Keiichi to retreat. Keiichi dodges easily and draws his own blade with a blur of steel, forcing Sasuke to shunshin out of reach.

Sasuke winces as his shoulder continues to feel weaker with every passing moment, numbness spreading, and he glares hatefully at the Akatsuki member currently in his way.

"What the hell did you do to me?!" Sasuke grits out, failing to tighten his grip on his sword.

Keiichi tilts his head and speaks very condescendingly to him.

"… Do you honestly expect me to tell you?"

Sasuke grimaces and attacks, forming a chidori. Keiichi smoothly sidesteps, dodging Sasuke's wings when they try to hit him and drives his piandao into the joint between his back and his left wing. Sasuke howls as Keiichi severs the joint, leaving Sasuke with a useless wing dragging on the ground. Keiichi shakes his head in disappointment.

"What's the point in transforming if you are only creating more weaknesses for the enemy to exploit?" Keiichi sighs.

Sasuke turns and breathes a fireball in his direction. Keiichi calmly holds his sword before him in a sideways grip, the flat of the blade facing Sasuke.

"Fire seal, open." He commands.

Seals beaten into the metal glow and the fiery chakra is pulled into it without a trace. Sasuke gapes at him and Keiichi takes full advantage of his surprise, flash stepping inside Sasuke's guard. His right hand glows gold with magoi and his swiftly targets Sasuke's major tenketsu, shutting down Sasuke's chakra network. The younger Uchiha gasps in pain as he is forcefully changed back into human form, blood pouring from the injury in his shoulder.

Keiichi activates a seal Natsuko-onee taught him, for 'troublesome dumb fucks who don't know how to stay down'. Chakra chains the color of ink slither over Sasuke's body, locking him into place. Sasuke glares at him with a combination of fear and anger as Keiichi pulls out a paintbrush from a seal while forcing his injury to clot with his other hand.

"Who-! Are you?!" He gasps out.

"No one you need to know about." Keiichi answers, frowning at the two seals (one broken outright, the other incomplete) someone had applied to contain the Curse Mark.

["Keiichi, Orochimaru is headed your way!"] Kisame warns him.

Keiichi clucks his tongue, extremely annoyed now.

"What a fucking pain in the ass!" He growls as he quickly expands and strengthens the suppression seal already in place, using a special ink he concocted from his own blood.

"Buy me three minutes- it looks like someone already started the hard part of separating the parasitic chakra from his regular chakra. Not a bad job, either." He notes.

["Very well. Hurry."] Itachi orders.

Keiichi frowns as he kneels next to Sasuke and wonders why the seal looks so damn familiar- then it hits him. He swears silently and creates a shadow clone to do the sealing while he shifts to be right in Sasuke's eyesight. He starts to hand sign.

"Did you meet Xia or Samar?"

Sasuke gawks at him and Keiichi shoves his hat up so Sasuke can see his Sharingan.

"Did you meet my sisters?" Keiichi signs harshly, his Sharingan spinning to compel Sasuke to answer.

Sasuke flinches and nods weakly, stunned by the latest bombshell and the effects of the genjutsu.

"You're Keiichi?" Sasuke asks numbly.

Keiichi nods.

"Where are they? Are they safe?" He signs.

"Konoha. They went to Konoha-" Sasuke mumbles then his face twists into a betrayed expression as he breaks the genjutsu.

"But why are you with him?! That man killed our clan!" He shouts.

Keiichi lowers his hat, nodding to his clone who completed the seal and only needed magoi to activate it before answering. He shelves the 'Itachi is a murderer' issue for the time being- not to mention his information is from a biased source.

"No choice." He signs bluntly before moving into position and presses his fingers against Sasuke's Curse Mark.

His free hand moves into the seal of concentration and his hands glows honey gold. Sasuke tenses with pain as the foreign magoi fills the seal to the brim, creating a barrier between Orochimaru's chakra and his own. An explosion nearby distracts Sasuke and his eyes widen when he sees Kabuto get mauled by the sentient Samehada. Keiichi doesn't lose focus and when he judges it ready says one word softly so only Sasuke and his partners could hear him.

"Fuin." He commands.

The seal locks into place and Sasuke blacks out from the agony, slumping against the ground. Keiichi sighs in relief and stands, spotting Orochimaru enter the clearing with obvious disbelief at the intricate seals in the area. Kisame whistles in appreciation, poking the barrier with Samehada.

"Shit kid, you could have mentioned being a sealing master." He complains good naturedly.

Keiichi shrugs, sensing Itachi mere seconds from slicing Orochimaru's head off. The Sannin crawls out of his corpse's mouth and Keiichi narrows his eyes, gesturing to his clone. It nods and moves into the fray, activating the trap seals to impede Orochimaru's escape before Kabuto kills it with a thrown kunai. Kisame laughs as Kabuto fights to reach his master's side, easily fending off the medic-nin. The Sannin's eyes flicker to Sasuke's prone form then to Keiichi, a frown tugging at his mouth as he dodges another deathblow and winces when a trap seal tries to bind him fast.

Kabuto feints and gets past Kisame, paying the toll of passage with a shattered right arm, and regroups with Orochimaru. Itachi calmly walks to stand next to Kisame, leaving both pairs of partners on opposite sides of the clearing with Keiichi in the middle. Orochimaru tilts his head at Itachi, not quite meeting his eyes.

"How unusual to have a trio within the Akatsuki; your third associate must be remarkable to be paired with you, Itachi-kun." He hisses.

Itachi remains silent, unnerving the other missing-nin. Kisame grins, flashing pointed teeth at Orochimaru and Kabuto.

"What can we say? The brat is something special." Kisame answers in a roundabout manner.

Orochimaru twitches, clearly remembering the trap, explosive and distraction seals throughout the forest.

"Indeed. Not many can claim such a mastery over fuinjutsu- did you find an Uzumaki to add to your ranks?" Orochimaru presses.

Keiichi rolls his eyes and hand signs to Itachi and Kisame.

"Someone cut his tongue out of his head or I will- he likes the sound of his own voice too much."

"Oh? Do I offend you somehow, fuinjutsu-kun?" Orochimaru purrs, yellow eyes locked on him.

Keiichi tilts his head, resting his chin on his fist under his hat to suggesting 'thinking' before nodding once.

"A sick fucker who injects others with parasitic chakra deserves to be slowly eaten alive by crows and maggots." He signs.

Kisame cracks up while Itachi remains stoic; Orochimaru sneers at Keiichi and Kabuto's face is twisted into a hateful snarl. Keiichi glances at Itachi and nudges the unconscious Sasuke with his foot.

"Done here. Kill snake and leave?" His fingers flash again.

Itachi nods and Keiichi opens a blank sealing scroll, lays it on the ground and focuses; the sealing barrier array breaks suddenly and flows inside the scroll. Kisame whistles as Keiichi casually rolls up the sealing scroll, pausing to tap Sasuke's forehead with medical green chakra before undoing the chakra chains binding the younger Uchiha. Keiichi moves towards Kisame and Itachi, his sword in a ready position as he moves closer to the group of missing-nin.

Orochimaru glances at Kabuto, communicating wordlessly with his accomplice. Kabuto nods- and rushes for Sasuke while Orochimaru summons a massive snake. Keiichi quirks his eyebrows, mildly impressed. Itachi calls for his crows, which dive for the serpent's face while Kisame races up towards Orochimaru. Keiichi glances at Kabuto, who is running away with Sasuke over his shoulder and shrugs.

"Want me to kill the snake?" He asks Itachi.

Itachi glances at him, slightly curious.

"Can you?"

Keiichi smirks, lifting his sword.

"Definitely." He assures his cousin.

Then he starts to murmur a certain series of spells, channeling his magoi through the blade. Water abruptly forms, swirling violently as Keiichi adds the next elements to the mass. Lightning starts to crackle and races endlessly throughout the liquid while wind howls and increases the violent motion of the water. Keiichi nods and it all suddenly condenses into a long black thread, which he flicks his sword forward towards the snake summon.

"Kisame, get out of there in the next ten seconds or you will fry to death." Keiichi warns the Kiri-nin.

Itachi shoots Keiichi a sharp glance but Keiichi ignores him as he has his spell wrap around the snake's throat, head and the Sannin. Orochimaru is intrigued until Keiichi gives the final command for the spell to ignite. Kisame, who jumped clear, gapes as the black thread expands with huge currents of lightning burning straight through the scales, flesh and bone. The water and wind cuts apart what does resist the lightning and Orochimaru is badly burned, having sacrificed a leg and an arm to escape the death trap. With a spray of blood, gore and ashes the snake collapses without its' head and poofs out of existence.

Orochimaru stares at Keiichi, who calmly gathers the ambient heat in the air to combine with more water and makes the extremely intelligent decision to run. Keiichi narrows his eyes in annoyance.

"Ass." He grumbles in annoyance.

"Is he still in your sensing range?" Itachi asks.

Keiichi nods, focusing.

"He's running back to his base- I wonder if he has an emergency escape seal..?" He muses.

Kisame sweat drops at his nonchalance at the possibility.

"Oi, isn't that a bad thing?" He points out.

Keiichi lifts his hat to grin deviously at him.

"I already tagged him, his pet medic and Grumpy-kun with tracking seals attuned to their chakra networks- I hid them in the flashbangs right at the start. So now, even if he runs…"

"We can find him again." Kisame realizes.

Keiichi nods in satisfaction. Itachi briefly glances at Kisame and they both think simultaneously;

Keiichi's scarily competent when he's motivated…

They run closer to Orochimaru's base until Keiichi makes a noise between growl and a huff.

"Dammit, he did have an emergency teleportation seal! So annoying…" Keiichi grumbles.

"You are certain?" Itachi asks.

Keiichi nods sharply.

"He's somewhere that way," He explains, pointing in the direction of Kiri.

"Along with the glasses-wearing medic and Grumpy-kun." And the Uzumaki is missing from the base too, but they don't need to know that. Keiichi mentally adds.

Itachi's face creases into a tiny frown at the news before sighing softly.

"Let us see what we can find amongst his effects." He decides.

Kisame and Keiichi shrug in agreement, following him deeper into the base. There isn't much resistance since Itachi cloaks them in a genjutsu and they find Orochimaru's labs and office. Keiichi heads for the office, casually deactivating the various trap seals and alarms in the room before pulling out files to read. Fairly quickly he regrets his curiosity as he reads accounts of forced experimentation and breeding.

Oh by Solomon, Mom would flay this bastard alive, heal him, then torture him until he dies from trauma and stress after she had shattered his mental capacities. He thinks, pulling out another file.

Keiichi flips it open- and sees Xia's face snarling at him from the picture attached to the file. He stiffens, praying, hoping this doesn't mean what he thinks this means. Then he starts to read.

Back in Konoha…

"Sakura-chan! Kakashi-sensei! Yamato-taicho!" Naruto yells, bounding ahead while Xia and Samar move at a slower pace behind him.

The trio pauses to look at Naruto with varying expressions of fondness. Off to the side, Sai watches with a fake smile. Samar notices Sai and waves in greeting while Xia laughs at Naruto's antics before winking at Sai.

"Hello again, everyone." Samar greets them, subtly beckoning at Sai to join them.

He blinks but does join the group. Xia yawns and leans on Samar, resting her chin on her shoulder as she smirks at them.

"Hi." She flashes a grin at Sakura, who flushes and determinedly doesn't look at Xia.

Samar, Yamato, Kakashi and Sai wonder what's going on with Sakura but table it for the time being. Naruto is his adorably dense self and doesn't notice.

"Yo!" Kakashi eye smiles with his precious Icha Icha open.

Xia stands up straight and quirks her eyebrow in response, then glances at her sister.

{"What's with him? And who is he?"} She asks her.

Samar jabs her elbow with a senbon with a disapproving glare.

"Speak in Fire, Xia. And ask him yourself." She scolds Xia, who pouts at her as she rubs her arm.

"Augh, fine! First off, what's with the book and who're you?" Xia questions Kakashi, hand on her hip.

"Kakashi Hatake, leader of Team Kakashi and jonin." He answers, completely ignoring her first question.

Xia narrows her eyes then grins deviously before disappearing. Nearly the same moment Kakashi's Icha Icha vanishes out of his hands, causing the jonin to uncharacteristically panic. Naruto, Yamato and Sakura are stunned by the speed of the theft while Samar sighs and Sai watches in bemused politeness. A loud groan after two minutes catches their attention and they spot Xia on a rooftop, reading Icha Icha before sending Kakashi an unimpressed stare.

"You know, this isn't even good porn." She informs him bluntly.

Naruto, Sakura, Yamato and Kakashi's brains short-circuit. Samar face palms and Sai watches the strange reactions his team is showing with growing interest. Kakashi recovers first, a dangerous gleam in his visible eye.

"Maa, you don't say?" He chuckles, Killing Intent flooding off of him in defense of his favorite series.

Xia snorts and flips through the book idly as she ignores his animosity.

"Plot needs work, sex positions aren't possible for the average shinobi or kunoichi, characters lack depth and the pickup lines fucking suck. The only upside I can give the author is decent steaminess and suspense throughout the book. Need I go on?" She drawls.

"Xia-nee, that's enough! Give Kakashi-san his book back!" Samar demands, glaring at her older triplet.

Xia snorts but shunshins down to plunk the offending literature on top of Kakashi's fluffy hair.

"But seriously, you could do better." She says earnestly to him.

"Wah, Xia-chan! You read porn?!" Naruto yelps, his brain finally catching up to the conversation as his eyes bug out.

Xia raises her eyebrow at him, completely unconcerned or shameful.

"Yeah, so?" She answers bluntly.

Samar's face flushes bright red and she buries her face into her hands with a groan. Sakura babbles incoherently while Yamato stares at Xia, speechless. Kakashi is bug-eyed at this startling revelation. Sai tilts his head.

"Ah, so you are a pervert." He deduces.

Xia shrugs.

"I mean, if you define 'pervert' as someone who likes erotic literature then sure. I define it as someone who peeps on the unsuspecting, tries or does nonconsensual touching and someone who can't keep their clothing on in public." She replies.

Sai nods seriously, contemplating her answer carefully. Kakashi recovers first, eyeing Xia cautiously.

"Maa, not that I am not enjoying the conversation- but why did Samar-chan ask us to be here?" Kakashi questions Xia, seeing Samar is not ready for coherent conversation yet.

"Ah! Right!" Xia brightens up with a laugh.

"Samar and I would like to cook dinner for Team Kakashi tonight in thanks for your efforts on this last mission!" She announces.

Samar nods, cheeks still pink.

"A-Aa. We also thought it would be good bonding time and we could work out training schedules after dinner." She adds.

Naruto agrees instantly, bouncing excitedly as he impatiently waits for the rest of Team Kakashi to decide. Sakura nods hesitantly and they all collectively stare at Sai, Yamato and Kakashi expectantly. Yamato fidgets before consenting and nudges Kakashi into accepting. Samar smiles at Sai.

"Come on Sai." She invites Sai, but Xia and the jonin recognize it for what it is- a command.

Xia hides a smirk while Kakashi and Yamato eye her sister cautiously. Sai finally nods and follows Xia and Samar back to their apartment. Xia walks up the side of the apartment building to the roof and the shinobi can hear something being released from a seal up there. Samar gives them a reassuring smile at their confused or worried looks.

"Xia-nee is setting up so we can eat outside- we don't have enough room for everyone indoors, unfortunately." She sighs as she unlocks the door.

Team Kakashi follows her inside, investigating the space as Samar enters the kitchen and starts the rice.

"So colorful…" Sakura remarks, surprised by the bright patterns on the walls.

Samar glances at her and grins slightly.

"Aa. White walls were too strange, so I got creative." She replies, pulling out vegetables to Naruto's dismay.

"Veggies! No way, nuh uh, don't wanna!" He yells, running for the door.

Xia pulls the door open and Naruto crashes into her, nearly knocking them both over. She barely braces herself in time and glowers at the blond, whose face ended up in her chest.

"… Blondie. Get your face off my boobs or I will castrate you." She warns him flatly.

He yelps, scrambling back as Xia stalks inside and absently slaps a sealing tag on him as she enters the kitchen.

"And as punishment you'll eat all the vegetables we put on your plate and like it. Got it?" Xia chirps as Naruto's hands bounce off the doorknob no matter how many times he tries to grab it.

Sakura nods in agreement to the punishment, her fist itching to pummel Naruto. Yamato, Kakashi and Sai watch awkwardly as Samar and Xia peel potatoes and dice a massive pile of carrots, celery and red bell peppers. Samar retrieves a bowl of peas waiting to be shucked and pushes it into Yamato's hands.

"Wash your hands then shuck the peas into this bowl." She orders briskly.

Yamato, slightly worried, complies and starts popping the peas out of their pods. Xia sets her sights on Sakura as she retrieves some meat from a sealing scroll hidden in her arm seal.

"Damn lucky we have {lamb}, it tastes better than chicken. Sakura, come here!" Xia calls, pulling out a trimming knife.

Sakura walks over more confidently than Yamato did.

"Yes?" She asks.

Xia grins at her, slapping a lamb leg on the chopping board.

"Debone and trim this sucker but don't throw the bones away- we'll make a soup stock out of it. Sai, you're cutting up the meat into cubes about the size of your thumb nail." She explains to the Root agent.

Sai cocks his head.

"I thought Samar and you were cooking, witch." He remarks.

Xia snorts, spinning a knife as she chops a potato expertly.

"We are- but you're helping. Besides, this way you're not causing trouble while we're busy." She explains cheerfully.

Kakashi sweat drops at the confirmation and starts to inch away.

Free food is one thing, but having to help cook it is way out of my comfort zone- too much work. He reflects.

Samar clamps a hand on his upper arm and smiles brightly at him, sending chills down his spine.

When did she-?!

"Kakashi-san, you'll be helping me with the garlic and onions." She says firmly.

Kakashi does not whine at being caught and dragged back to the kitchen. He does not. But he does wince when he sees that he will be mincing a small mountain of garlic and onions. Samar gives him a bright smile full of expectations, chief among them 'you won't disappoint me, now will you?' followed closely by 'hurry up Kakashi-san'. Kakashi slumps in defeat and wonders as the overpowering smells make his eyes tear up if Samar had planned this as punishment for his escape attempt.

Naruto, after he whines at Samar and Xia, is tasked with measuring out the spices into a bowl under Samar's supervision. It takes a while, but Sakura finally realizes what the Kouga sisters are making.

"Curry rice!" She exclaims excitedly.

Xia smirks in approval while Samar giggles, nodding.

"Not just any curry rice, it's {lamb} curry rice!" Xia grins.

{"Rah-mu?"} Sakura tries to mimic the word, to Xia's amusement.

"Hn, say it faster with a short vowel sound and no 'rah'. It's 'L-ah'." Xia encourages her.

{"R-Lah-mu"} She tries again, carefully listening to the difference between r and l and correcting herself.

Samar shakes her head and corrects Sakura this time.

"No vowel at the end, just the 'mh' sound. So it goes 'lah-mh' when you break it down and you blur it together to say {lamb}."

Sakura frowns and gives it her best shot.

{"Lamb!"} She says.

Xia whoops and Samar smiles.

"Nice! Now you know the name of the poor critter you're butchering for dinner!" Xia laughs.

"Is it the name of a pet or of a species of animal?" Yamato asks, holding the bowl of shucked peas.

"Species. It's an animal that supplies fur, meat, milk-" Samar starts to explain only for Xia to interrupt.

"And by the seven seas they're one of the stupidest creatures ever to walk the earth." She finishes cheekily.

"What do ya mean, dattebayo?" Naruto frowns, tilting his head.

Xia snorts, shaking her head.

"Damn things all but kill themselves by walking off of cliffs, drowning in ponds or getting stuck in holes or bramble patches." She rants, scooping up the chopped veggies and dumping them in a pan of fragrant hot oil.

Samar sighs at Xia.

"They're not that bad-"

"You didn't have to carry one back up from the bottom of a ravine! They're heavy suckers and they smell!" Xia retorts.

Samar glares at Xia, silently chiding her. Xia rolls her eyes as Kakashi gratefully dumps in the onions and garlic. Sai tilts his head, holding the bowl of chopped meat to Xia to be added to the curry.

"The way you interact with each other is odd." He states.

Xia cocks her head, amused.

"Oh? How so?" She pushes him.

"You frequently look at each other without saying or signing anything but there seems to be communication taking place nonetheless." Sai recites his observations.

Samar suppresses a laugh- Xi has no such scruples, sniggering loudly.

"Aa, Sai. We do communicate- but it's not in a conventional way." Samar explains to the socially dense shinobi.

Sai nods, satisfied with that answer. Kakashi and Yamato retreat to the couch as Xia continues to cook the veggies and meat while Samar has Naruto help her with the curry sauce. It takes a bit, but they finish their separate tasks and combined it all together into a rich curry. Samar has Sakura grab the bowls from the cupboard while she seizes the tea mugs, teapot and a small scroll. Sai is given the chopsticks and Yamato carries the pot of rice up to the roof. Xia and Naruto carry the curry (after Xia had removed the sealing tag) while Kakashi trails behind everyone before blinking at the set up Xia created.

She had lain out thick, colorful blankets with seating pillows for everyone to sit on, allowing them to enjoy the fresh air as they eat. Rice, then curry is spooned into everyone's bowls and chopsticks passed around. Samar starts brewing a pot of tea with a rich scent on the scroll. They all settle on a pillow and sit back, chowing down while Samar pours out a tea that minty but sweet. Naruto scrunches his nose when Samar passes him his cup.

"What's this, dattebayo?" Naruto asks, glaring at the liquid.

"Mint tea with a crap ton of honey. It's good for you." Xia answers, sipping hers happily.

Sakura smiles at the taste, noticing subtle differences between the mint she is familiar with and the one Samar had brewed with. Kakashi drinks his through his mask while Yamato sips it more cautiously and Sai methodically drinks his. When everyone's bowls are empty, Xia pulls out a scroll and seals her dirty bowl and chopsticks inside.

"Put 'em in then we'll talk training~!" Xia says cheerily.

Naruto adds his loud agreement and the rest of Team Kakashi efficiently cleans up before Samar starts the discussion.

"Sakura, Naruto-kun, Sai, have any of you worked on elemental transformations before?" She asks.

Sakura winces.

"A little bit, but not a lot." She admits.

Sai nods.

"Earth, water and fire release, crone." He lists off.

Naruto's face scrunches up into a frown.

"Uh, what's that?" He asks her.

Kakashi and Yamato sweat drop while Xia snorts in amusement.

"Typical Uzumaki." She says fondly.

Samar smiles understandingly at Naruto and then looks at Sai and Sakura.

"Alright, for group training everyone is going to be working on genjutsu, particularly recognizing and breaking one. Sakura, you will be working with me on creating an original technique along with basic genjutsus capable of altering the environment. We'll cover others later, including ones for inducing fear, paranoia and relaxing your enemy's guard. Sai, you can join us if you wish."

"After that is seals." Xia picks up the thread of conversation, surprising the group.

"Seals? You mean fuinjutsu?" Yamato clarifies.

Samar and Xia nod.

"Aa. Sakura, Naruto, you'll be starting with the basics- Sai we'll need to assess to figure out what level you are at given your ink jutsus. Kakashi and Yamato, if you wish to learn please join in or use it as a chance to brush up." Samar offers.

Kakashi hums, eye smiling.

"Maa, maybe." He answers.

Xia snorts before continuing.

"Elemental jutsus, chakra transformations and chakra control after sealing practice- we'll split up as needed for tutoring. Taijutsu and bakijutsu after that- mostly sparring but we'll do some drills on how not to get fucked by a Sharingan with Kakashi's help." She says dryly, leaning back on her elbows.

Naruto, Sakura and Yamato stiffen while Sai and Kakashi watch Xia with sharp eyes. Samar makes a long suffering expression at Xia, who ignores it.

"But why should-!" Naruto starts to protest but Xia glares him down.

"Duckbutt is a problem and he laid you out as soon as you met his gaze. And from what I've heard, he's not even your biggest concern- that goes to the organization his nii-san belongs to, right?" She ruthlessly points out.

Naruto glares at her heatedly but Kakashi speaks up unexpectedly.

"I think that's a good idea." He tells the group.

"Itachi is very dangerous, especially with his Mangekyo. None of you know how to fight a Sharingan user without being caught in a genjutsu." The unspoken 'except Xia and Samar' doesn't go unnoticed.

Sai nods, pragmatic as always with Yamato agreeing after a moment. Sakura bites her lower lip before her eyes harden with resolve and she firmly nods in assent.

"We need to get stronger." Sakura states, not quite demanding, looking at the three Sharingan users.

Xia's grin grows and Samar smiles slightly.

"Aa. We can help with that." They say together.

Kakashi eye smiles at Sakura.

"Maa, we'll work something out…" He assures Sakura.

Naruto pouts before sighing in defeat.

"When do we start, dattebayo?" He asks.

"Tomorrow, 6 am at Training Grounds 3. Make sure to eat- you'll need it~!" Xia sings.

In Amegakure…

Keiichi is grateful for the damn hat concealing his face- because he knows despite his best efforts his Sharingan is activating at random as his anger spikes. Gritting his teeth, Keiichi buries his rage and slips away to go straight to his workshop. Kisame and Itachi watch him go with varying levels of concern- the entire trip back, Keiichi had spoken the bare minimum. Even for an Uchiha, it was worrying- especially since Keiichi is normally far more talkative than Itachi.

"Let's report to Leader." Itachi says quietly.

Kisame nods and can't help a quick glance at Keiichi's rapidly vanishing figure.

Hopefully nothing sets him off… Kisame thinks, remembering the jutsu-thing Keiichi had used on the snake summons.

Meanwhile Keiichi can see the door to his workshop and feels a spark of relief; he can be alone and process what the fuck he had learned-!

"Ah~! Keiichi-kun!" A sickeningly cheerful voice calls and Keiichi represses a twitch.

Tobi bounds into view with the enthusiasm of a Golden Retriever and stands between him and his workshop. Keiichi feels his temper start to boil and barely suppresses a surge of Killing Intent. Tobi doesn't seem to notice Keiichi's distemper, bouncing happily in front of the magician.

"Tobi's happy to see Keiichi-kun! Is Keiichi-kun okay? Was Itachi or Kisame mean? Are you tired? Will Tobi get to eat food Keiichi-kun makes-?" Tobi chatters.

Keiichi stay silent and moves to walk past the chatterbox, intent on his goal but Tobi, somehow, anticipates him and leaps almost right in Keiichi's face. And for a second it's not Tobi Keiichi sees, but Isi jumping at him! His reaction is completely instinctive as he shoves his hand up between him and Tobi and a spell tumbles out of his mouth.

{"Asfal!"} He barks and the air in front of him solidifies, pushing Tobi back firmly.

Tobi tumbles backwards and barely avoids colliding with the wall, wailing loudly. Keiichi swears but knows Tobi (probably) is fine so he hurries inside his workshop and locks up. Tobi's wails attract the other members of the Akatsuki to the scene, namely Konan, Deidara, Hidan and Kakuzu.

"What the fuck did you do, dipshit?" Hidan snaps at Tobi.

"Tobi doesn't know! Tobi was talking to Keiichi-kun and he said a weird word and Tobi rolled and rolled all the way over here! Was Tobi bad boy?!" Tobi sobs pathetically.

Konan narrows her eyes at Tobi but Deidara beats her to the punch.

"You went and annoyed Keiichi?! What's wrong with you, un!" Deidara scolds Tobi.

"Tobi's sowry-!" Tobi wails, tears gushing.

"Hmph. What a waste of time." Kakuzu grunts, folding his arms.

Konan sighs and claps her hands. Like magic, the missing-nin stop yelling and grumbling and shut up. Konan gives them stern glares.

"I'll deal with Keiichi. Dismissed." She orders.

They obey, Hidan dragging Tobi away by the collar of his Akatsuki robe leaving Konan alone in the hallway. She knocks on the door and waits patiently: after Tobi (unintentionally) tested Keiichi's seals, Keiichi informed the Akatsuki they wouldn't be getting inside unless he allows them in. No one was stupid enough to push him and Pain had let him be; given that Keiichi cannot damage or kill the Akatsuki, Pain deemed it prudent for Keiichi to have a 'safe place' to retreat to.

"Keiichi, it is Konan." She calls softly.

There is silence for a moment and the lock disengages while the seals retract as Keiichi opens the door. Konan almost raises an eyebrow in surprise but stops herself; Keiichi is simmering with tangible anger that is barely restrained. His eyes flicker from purple to crimson and back before he makes a concentrated effort to master himself, irises reverting to violet.

"Konan-san." He greets her coolly.

"May I come in? It is about Tobi." She tells him directly.

One of the things she, Itachi and Pain had noticed is Keiichi prefers bluntness. Make no mistake, Keiichi can and does use subtly but when he is on the receiving end being straightforward will often get a better response. He nods and steps aside for her then closes and locks the door. Konan notices but settles on the stool he silently offers her before seating himself across from her.

"What exactly happened between you and Tobi?" She asks, gaze level.

"… I was coming back here when he showed up. He started asking questions, like always, but when I tried to walk past him he jumped towards my face. I cast a {spell} to force him away from me." Keiichi reports flatly.

Konan remains silent and Keiichi shoves his hair back in aggravation.

"It was instinctive and fuck it, he's not dead, maimed or injured and yes I can tell so why are we having this conversation?" He snaps, anger bleeding into his tone.

"… We were worried." Konan admits and Keiichi stares blankly at her for a moment before understanding dawns.

He laughs harshly, shaking his head as he meets her eyes.

"… I'm good, Konan-san. I'm not a fuinjutsu master but I am good. But despite that, I can't alter the damn seal you branded me with, so don't worry. I'm not going anywhere- you made sure of that." Keiichi smiles coldly as his eyes glow crimson.

Konan nods and Keiichi's eyes darken back to violet.

"… Leave. Please. I need to be alone." He tells her quietly, weariness showing.

Konan nods and exits, hearing the lock and seals reengage behind her. She frowns, going over what he had told her.

An instinctive reaction… She muses thoughtfully.

And that is a wrap~! Next chapter will be in the PAST! Please remember to review and comment! Until next time~!